Friday, August 30, 2019

Sarah McBride's heartbreaking memoir: Tomorrow Will Be Different (Book Review)

Sarah McBride
I was only aware of Sarah McBride in a cursory way before reading her memoir, "Tomorrow Will Be Different." I knew she was a strong advocate for transgender issues but that was about all. I simply had no idea just how intense, dynamic, loving, and devastating her young adulthood has been, just how many years she has lived in such a short amount of time. I also had no idea that this book, while certainly about many issues of importance to the transgender community, wasn't really a book about transitioning at all. Whatever it is about, you need to read this book. I don't say that lightly. I've never cried more when reading a book than I did during this one.

Note: As is my policy when reviewing memoirs and similarly personal accounts of a person's life, I will not do a traditional review with a numeric score nor a standard critique of the content as I would for fiction. How could I, or any one else, judge another person's life story? I want to honor the author's lived reality and so my review is only intended to highlight how I responded to their story. On to the review.

In some ways, I hesitate even to try and write about this book because I simply cannot do justice to it, or the events and people within. But if nothing else, I want to lend this space to the promotion of this book in the hopes that it will reach a wider audience. I don't normally read memoirs. In fact, the only ones I have ever rad are about transgender women as part of working through my own journey. I picked this up, thinking it would be about Sarah's transition, and while the book touched on that briefly a few times, it ended up being about so much more and being so moving and affecting in different but deeply intimate ways.

We meet Sarah as she is finishing up her undergraduate work at American University and just as she comes out as transgender to her parents and the school community. Her perspective on coming out is informed by the unique place her school has in American democracy (with its programs readying our next generation of diplomats and government officials) as well as her role as their student council president, a highly influential position at this school. Much of this book is about her early forays in politics and the process of enacting civil rights legislation for transgender people. It was fascinating, scary, and ultimately hopeful.

After coming out, Sarah leads the charge in her home state of Deleware, and on behalf of two advocacy groups, to enact marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination bills in the state. The lobbying, the vote counting, the speeches, are all recounted in vivid and exciting detail. This is a page-turner - think of it as the transgender West Wing! She is on the front lines of a state fight, at all of twenty two years old or something. She captures her youth, naivete, sincerity, and determination through each phase of the political battle through clear and evocative writing.

At the same time, she and a man are falling in love and building a life together. He happens to be a transgender man also working on LGBTQ rights, specifically transgender access to health care. His work leads to the passage or key portions in the Affordable Care Act that provide for non-discrimination in health care and that are now embedded into in the policies of many insurance companies. They are a dynamic team and the insight into the political world of LGBTQ lives is richly told.

And then...because you could feel it in the writing from the very beginning...a melancholy undercurrent in Sarah's prose...and ultimately in some of the verb tenses she chose to use at times...something bad was about to happen. Her boyfriend, the man who would become her husband, gets very very sick with a very very bad type of cancer, still in his mid twenties, while she is only twenty three or so.

What should be only the start of an incredible life together, places Sarah, as a young woman barely out of college, into the role of nurse and doctor and care aid as he gets sicker and sicker through treatment. Her description of her love, commitment, and care during his treatment highlights a capacity to love that is extraordinary. In fact, the final third of this memoir is not much about transgender issues, although they are there in the fears the couple faces meeting new doctors in new hospitals and worrying whether his care will suffer due to being trans. But mostly, the final third of this memoir is about the two of them, about who Sarah becomes, against her own will, as the girlfriend and wife of someone so sick when she herself is so very young. She is forced to grow up quickly while only in the first blushes of what should be a long and happy life together.

I won't spoil the rest, but it is tender, and loving, and heartbreaking, and moving, and so well written. She is a magnificent person, doing magnificent work, and leading an extraordinary life in the face of harrowing personal tragedy. Please, please, do yourself a favor and read this book. It isn't a book about a transgender person's transition. It is, a book about a transgender person living. Too often, myself certainly included, we view transition as the critical aspect of a transgender person's life. What Sarah McBride's memoir, "Tomorrow Will Be Different," reminds us, is that the reason for transitioning is that there is so much more living to keep doing afterwards.


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